Rendered homeless by circumstances beyond his middle-class family's control, Dan, a popular school baseball star, is forced to move to Tent City, where he becomes involved in the efforts of people fighting for better conditions only to be targeted by an adversary who wants to destroy the impoverished region. By the award-winning author of Can't Get There From Here.
Stalwart scribe Strasser returns with this strong contemporary effort, a low-key slow-burner about a topic alarmingly underrepresented in modern YA: poverty. Dan, 18, is a promising pitcher with hopes of being drafted early into the big leagues, but the ongoing financial woes of his family suddenly begin to snowball. They lose their home, their car, and their unemployment checks and must move to "Dignityville," a shantytown erected near town hall to provide the homeless with a safe place to live. If it weren't bad enough seeing his dad diving through trash, Dan's situation rots away at his social life as well. His friends behave awkwardly, his girlfriend is embarrassed, and Dan is too tired to do the kind of practice his sport requires. There is a mystery-someone is plotting against Dignityville to turn public opinion against it-and plenty of convincing parallels to The Grapes of Wrath. Behind it all, however, is a simple, sensitive, realistic portrayal of a teen breakup, which more than makes up for occasional purposeful passages. Timely and important material. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.
Dan is middle-class and college-bound, but that won't keep the global recession from taking his home. Dan—with a stockbroker mother and a city-employee father, headed to Rice on a baseball scholarship—was once a solid member of the middle class. But when his parents lose their jobs, the family winds up in Dignityville, a tent city for the town's homeless. Homelessness, he learns, isn't merely the absence of a roof and four walls: It's hunger, insecure storage, shame, exhaustion, physical vulnerability, and disconnection from phone service and Wi-Fi. Even geography becomes Dan's enemy, as he discovers Dignityville is outside his school district, and his after-school job is too far away to reach. Highly politicized infodumps about America's growing wealth disparity, while unsubtle, are smoothly integrated through the voices of minor characters with messages to impart. There's an Occupy-style activist with informative posters, a young black man sneering at the surprise of middle-class white people at being "shoved down to the bottom where they never thought they'd be," even Dan's own Web searches for a school research project springing from his experiences. For similar themes with less of a problem-novel vibe, try Sarah Dooley's lovely Body of Water (2011); nonetheless, Dan's experience with middle-class poverty is accessible and timely. (Fiction. 13-15) Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
TWO MONTHS AGO
It was never easy with Talia. The second you said something she didn’t like, she had five different ways of letting you know. Since I knew she wasn’t going to like what I had to say about Thanksgiving, I waited until the last moment—lunch was over and we were leaving the cafeteria.
“You know the Fall Classic Tournament over Thanksgiving?” I said as we walked out into the hall. “I got invited.”
The corners of Talia’s mouth drooped. “You said you’d go away with us.”
“No, you said I’d go away with you. I said I wasn’t sure.”
Her eyebrows dipped. “You don’t want to go to Hilton Head?”
“Tal, don’t do this. You know I want to go, but there’ll be pro scouts at the tournament. Guys get drafted straight out of high school all the time.”
Talia stopped in the middle of the hall and widened her eyes. “And not go to Rice?”
“Come on.” I took her hand. My next class was on the other side of the building. Talia allowed herself to be coaxed along, and we passed a bunch of kids at a table who were asking people to sign up for some march on Washington.
“So now you’re saying you’re not going to college?” Talia repeated the question she already knew the answer to.
“I didn’t say that. I said—”
“Hey, Dan,” a voice interrupted us. Like a guide giving a college tour, a kid from the sign-up table started walking backward in front of Talia and me. He had long, ratty, brown hair. “How about signing up?”
“For?” I asked.
He pointed at a poster on the wall.
DID YOU KNOW?
1% OF THE POPULATION CONTROLS 25% OF ALL THE WEALTH IN AMERICA?
THE WEALTHY OFTEN PAY FEWER TAXES THAN THE MIDDLE CLASS?
BANKS KEEP PROFITS, WHILE TAXPAYERS PAY FOR THEIR LOSSES?
HOMELESSNESS IN THE UNITED STATES IS AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH?
UNEMPLOYMENT IS NEAR AN ALL-TIME HIGH?
POLITICIANS DEPEND ON WEALTHY INDIVIDUALS AND CORPORATIONS?
WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE? JOIN THE THANKSGIVING MARCH ON WASHINGTON
Talia pulled my hand. It was her turn to coax me away. “Dan, we were talking.”
“Who do you think politicians really serve?” asked the ratty-haired kid. “The rich people and corporations who pay for their election campaigns, or the rest of us?”
“Dan.” Talia tugged impatiently.
I let myself be pulled away.
“Think about it, Dan,” the kid called behind me.
“Who was that?” Talia asked as we continued down the hall.
“He knew your name.”
“Lots of people know my name.”
“He sounded like he knew you.”
“They do that to get your attention.”
“What do I have to do to get your attention?” she asked.
I squeezed her hand. “You always have my attention.”
Not that she gave me much choice.
“Then please explain what’s going on. First you say you’re not going to Hilton Head. Now you’re not going to college?” Talia loved to spin everything toward the dramatic.
“I’m going to Rice,” I said patiently. “The letter of intent’s supposed to come in a few weeks. The deal is basically done. But in the extremely unlikely case that I pitch lights out at the tournament, and some major-league team actually wants to sign me straight out of high school? Rice would let me go.”
“And you’d really do that? Even after that coach arranged for your work study and stipend?” Talia asked. Was it any surprise that Legally Blonde was still one of her favorite movies? Only, unlike Elle Woods, Talia didn’t start with the ditz thing and then wait until law school to discover she had brains. Talia displayed lawyer smarts whenever it suited her.
“He wouldn’t be happy, but he’d understand,” I tried to explain. “It’s all about the big show. He knows that.”
I can’t say I was sorry when we reached the corner in the hall where each day we parted after lunch. As if she suddenly no longer cared about Thanksgiving or baseball, Talia smiled, all white teeth and lip gloss. “See you at eight? Carrie’s party?”
Now I understood. She knew I didn’t want to go to that party, but there was no way I could refuse after saying no to her family’s Thanksgiving trip. Getting me to the party was probably what the whole Thanksgiving argument had been about in the first place. I may have been considered an exceptional high school athlete, but once again I’d been totally outclassed by a girl who stood five feet two inches and barely weighed 100 pounds.
“We don’t have to stay at the party that long,” Talia assured me with a winning smile.
Defeated, I sighed. “Sure.”
She stretched up and kissed me on the cheek. “Good boy.”